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Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?

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  • David S. Landes
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    Abstract

    In the history of technological development, why didn't other regions keep up with Europe? This is an important question, as one learns almost as much from failure as from success. The one civilization that was in a position to match and even anticipate the European achievement was China. China had two chances: first, to generate a continuing, self-sustaining process of scientific and technological advance on the basis of its indigenous traditions and achievements; and second, to learn from European science and technology once the foreign "barbarians" entered the Chinese domain in the sixteenth century. China failed both times. What explains the first failure? I stress the role of the market: the fact that enterprise was free in Europe while China lacked a free market and institutionalized property rights; that in Europe innovation worked and paid, while the Chinese state was always stepping in to interfere with private enterprise. As for the second failure, China's cultural triumphalism combined with petty downward tyranny made it a singularly bad learner.

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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.20.2.3
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Volume (Year): 20 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
    Pages: 3-22

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:20:y:2006:i:2:p:3-22

    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.2.3
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    1. Hartwell, Robert, 1966. "Markets, Technology, and the Structure of Enterprise in the Development of the Eleventh-Century Chinese Iron and Steel Industry," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(01), pages 29-58, March.
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    Cited by:
    1. Matteo Cervellati & Uwe Sunde, 2008. "The Economic and Demographic Transition, Mortality, and Comparative Development," University of St. Gallen Department of Economics working paper series 2008 2008-21, Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen.
    2. Taylor, Mark Zachary & Wilson, Sean, 2012. "Does culture still matter?: The effects of individualism on national innovation rates," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 234-247.
    3. Rafael, Dobado-González & Alfredo, García-Hiernaux & David, Guerrero-Burbano, 2013. "West versus East: Early Globalization and the Great Divergence," MPRA Paper 48773, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Anastasia Litina, 2012. "Unfavorable Land Endowment, Cooperation, and Reversal of Fortune," CREA Discussion Paper Series 12-07, Center for Research in Economic Analysis, University of Luxembourg.
    5. Masahiko Aoki, 2011. "The Five-Phases of Economic Development and Institutional Evolution in China and Japan," Development Economics Working Papers 23196, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
    6. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2011. "Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation, and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations," NBER Working Papers 17640, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Aoki, Masahiko, 2012. "The Five-Phases of Economic Development and Institutional Evolution in China and Japan," ADBI Working Papers 340, Asian Development Bank Institute.
    8. Yusuf, Shahid, 2007. "From creativity to innovation," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4262, The World Bank.
    9. Guanzhong Wen, 2011. "Why was china trapped in an agrarian society? An economic geographical approach to the needham puzzle," Frontiers of Economics in China, Springer, vol. 6(4), pages 507-534, December.
    10. Brian Snowdon, 2008. "Towards a Unified Theory of Economic Growth," World Economics, World Economics, Economic & Financial Publishing, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 9(2), pages 97-151, April.
    11. Mueller, Dennis C., 2011. "Entrepreneurship and Growth," Ratio Working Papers 170, The Ratio Institute.
    12. Yu, J. & Nijkamp, P., 2008. "China’s prospects as an innovative country: an industrial economics perspective," Serie Research Memoranda 0009, VU University Amsterdam, Faculty of Economics, Business Administration and Econometrics.

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